Welcome to The Hockey Writers’ Power Rankings, the top-13 teams in the NHL this week as ranked by members of The Hockey Writers. This week’s panel is Greg Boysen (Chicago Blackhawks), Jeff Morris (Ottawa Senators), Kevin Armstrong (Toronto Maple Leafs), Louis Pannone (Arizona Coyotes), Shaun Filippelli (Chicago Blackhawks), Pete Bauer (Columbus Blue Jackets), Dean Plunkett, Kyle Gipe, Hannah Garfield (Boston Bruins), Jim Parsons, Sr. (Toronto Maple Leafs/Vancouver Canucks), Patrick Smith (Dallas Stars), Ryan Szporer (Montreal Canadiens), and Wray Perkin (Nashville Predators)
The Toronto Maple Leafs edged the Tampa Bay Lightning to hold onto first place in this week’s Baker’s Dozen, the weekly NHL power rankings as voted by members of The Hockey Writers.
Seven voters were impressed enough by Toronto’s three-game road sweep of the Edmonton Oilers to vote the Maple Leafs as the No. 1 team, just enough to keep them on top for the second straight week. Toronto’s 6-1 win on Wednesday completed the sweep and moved the Maple Leafs nine points ahead of the Winnipeg Jets in the race for first place in the North Division.
The Lightning got the other six first-place votes and finished one point behind Toronto after allowing one goal in their three victories last week (3-0-0).
The Vegas Golden Knights jumped from seventh place to third, as the Carolina Hurricanes rose from sixth place to fourth. However, the biggest move was by the Washington Capitals, who weren’t ranked last week but are now in fifth place after winning all four of their games, including a 2-1 shootout victory on the road against the Boston Bruins on Wednesday. The New York Islanders (3-0-1 last week) also returned to the rankings in eighth place after a one-week absence, and the Minnesota Wild (12th) made the top 13 for the first time.
The Edmonton Oilers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Los Angeles Kings dropped out.
To create the Baker’s Dozen power rankings, 13 members of The Hockey Writers staff rank their top 13 teams. The team picked first by a voter receives 13 points, a second-place selection is worth 12, a third-place vote gets 11, and so on down to No. 13, which is worth one point.
Here are this week’s rankings:
1. Toronto Maple Leafs (18-4-2)
Last week: 1
Upswing: Toronto took command of the North Division by shutting out the Oilers in back-to-back road games despite losing starting goalie Frederik Andersen and NHL goal-scoring leader Auston Matthews to injuries (both returned for Toronto’s 6-1 win on Wednesday). The Maple Leafs are profiting from a commitment to team defense: They are fourth in the NHL in average goals allowed (2.33 per game) after finishing 26th (3.17) last season.
Downturn: After embarrassing the team that was directly behind the in the standings, about the only issue for the NHL’s leader in points (38) and points percentage (.792) is whether they’re peaking too soon. Toronto fans probably wish the playoffs started tomorrow.
2. Tampa Bay Lightning (15-4-1)
Last week: 2
Upswing: Andrei Vasilevskiy is making a case for winning the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goalie for the second time in three seasons (he won in 2018-19 and was third last season). He has three straight shutouts, including a 2-0 road win against the Dallas Stars on Tuesday, but he’s also had plenty of help: Vasilevskiy faced just 73 shots (24.3 per game) in the three shutouts, which lowered his goals-against average to 1.65. He also leads the NHL with 13 wins.
Downturn: The Lightning are 20th in the league in face-off winning percentage (49.0) and average just 29.1 shots on goal per game. Aside from that, the defending Stanley Cup champs are rolling.
3. Vegas Golden Knights (14-4-1)
Last week: 7
Upswing: The Golden Knights moved into first place in the West Division by shutting down their opponents; they’ve allowed 15 goals in their past nine games. They’ve also killed off all 18 penalty kills during that span.
Downturn: Vegas has fattened up on home cooking (10-2-1) with 13 of their first 19 games at T-Mobile Arena. That’s about to change: their next six games, and 10 of the next 12, are on the road.
4. Carolina Hurricanes (15-6-1)
Last week: 6
Upswing: After going 4-3-1 in an eight-game stretch against Tampa Bay, the Florida Panthers and the Chicago Blackhawks, the Hurricanes kicked off a stretch of 10 of 11 games against the non-playoff teams in the Central Division with a 4-2 win in Nashville against the Predators on Tuesday. Beginning Thursday, they also play six of the next eight at home; Carolina is 6-1-1 at PNC Arena.
Downturn: The Hurricanes didn’t match up well with the division-leading Lightning. Carolina won the first of the four-game series, then dropped the next three and managed just three goals in the three losses.
5. Washington Capitals (13-5-4)
Last week: Not ranked
Upswing: It’s not surprising that Nicklas Backstrom, arguably the NHL’s best setup man of the 2010s, is leading the Capitals in scoring with 25 points. What’s surprising is that he also leads them with 10 goals in 22 games after scoring 12 in 61 games last season.
Downturn: Alex Ovechkin is in danger of finishing with an NHL career-low in goals. He has scored seven times in 18 games; his career-low is 32 in 2010-11 (79 games) and 2012-13 (48 games).
6. Florida Panthers (13-4-4)
Last week: 4
Upswing: Jonathan Huberdeau leads Florida with 24 points (eight goals, 16 assists) despite being 10th on the team with 34 shots on goal in 21 games. However, he leads the Panthers by scoring on 23.5 percent of those shots.
Downturn: The Panthers let two points get away by losing back-to-back games after regulation to the Hurricanes, including 4-3 in a shootout on Feb. 27 after scoring first in the tiebreaker and 3-2 in overtime on Monday after allowing the tying goal with 1:33 remaining in the third period.
7. Boston Bruins (12-5-3)
Last week: 3
Upswing: One reason it’s tough to score against the Bruins: They allow an NHL-low 26.1 shots on goal per game. Another reason: They lead the league in face-offs, winning 56.5 percent of their draws.
Downturn: Playing the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum, as the Bruins do for the fourth and final time this season on Tuesday, has been the Bruins’ kryptonite. They are 0-3-0 and have been outscored 12-4 in their first three visits to Long Island.
8. New York Islanders (12-6-4)
Last week: Not ranked
Upswing: Backup goalie Ilya Sorokin, a 25-year-old rookie who starred in the KHL before joining the Islanders this season, is making a case for more playing time behind Semyon Varlamov. Sorokin is 2-2-1, but his past two starts have been shutouts – including a 2-0 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday.
Downturn: The Islanders have left points on the table by going 0-4 in games decided after regulation. All four have come against Pennsylvania-based teams; they’ve lost twice each to the Philadelphia Flyers (both in overtime) and Penguins (one each in OT and a shootout).
9. Winnipeg Jets (14-7-1)
Last week: 8
Upswing: The Jets are nothing if not resilient. They are 4-5-0 when trailing after two periods (teams that take a lead into the third period win about 85 percent of the time). Those four wins are tied with the Penguins for the most in the NHL, and their .444 winning percentage in those games is the best in the league.
Downturn: The Jets are getting stellar goaltending from Connor Hellebuyck and backup Laurent Brossoit, but they’re making life tough for the two by allowing 31.5 shots per game – only five teams have allowed more. Hellebuyck and Brossoit have bailed out their teammates by combining for a .920 save percentage.
10. Chicago Blackhawks
Last week: 11
Upswing: Patrick Kane scored his 400th NHL goal (200 each at home and on the road) in Chicago’s 7-2 win against the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday. He’s averaging 1.48 points per game at age 32 and is the only one of the top six scorers in the league who doesn’t play in the North Division.
Downturn: Were it not for the heroics of rookie goalie Kevin Lankinen (9-3-3, 2.55 goals-against average, .924 save percentage) the Blackhawks would be paying a big price for allowing more shots per game (33.9) than any other team.
11. Philadelphia Flyers (11-5-3)
Upswing: Second-year forward Joel Farabee scored his ninth and 10th goals of the season in Philadelphia’s 19th game, a 5-2 road loss to the Penguins on Tuesday. He scored eight goals in 52 games as a rookie last season. Farabee and James van Riemsdyk share the team lead in goals.
Downturn: Carter Hart has ceded some playing time to Brian Elliott. Hart is 6-4-3 with a 3.49 goals-against average and .893 save percentage after allowing six and five goals in losses sandwiched around a 3-0 win against the Buffalo Sabres. Elliott is 5-1-0 with a 2.03 GAA and .931 save percentage.
12. Minnesota Wild (12-7-1)
Last week: Not ranked
Upswing: Kirill Kaprizov leads all NHL rookies with 17 points (six goals, 11 assists) in 20 games. He scored eight points (three goals, five assists) during a six-game winning streak that ended with a 5-4 overtime loss to the Golden Knights on Monday.
Downturn: Zach Parise was not a happy camper after being scratched for Minnesota’s 5-1 loss to the Golden Knights on Wednesday – the first time he’s been scratched since signing a 13-year, $98 million contract on July 4, 2012. The move came two days after he was on the ice for the tying goal in the final minute of the third period in a 5-4 overtime loss in Vegas. The 36-year-old forward has one goal in his past 13 games.
13. Colorado Avalanche (12-7-1)
Last week: 9
Upswing: Forward Mikko Rantanen scored two goals and set up the other two in Colorado’s 4-0 road win against the San Jose Sharks on Wednesday, giving him nine points (three goals, six assists) in his past five games. Captain Gabriel Landeskog also scored against San Jose and has a three-game goal-scoring streak.
Downturn: The Avs have been without two regular defensemen, Cale Makar (three games) and Bowen Byram (two games) because of injuries. They’re hoping that No. 1 center Nathan MacKinnon won’t miss any time after leaving the win in San Jose following a third-period hit to the head by Sharks rookie Joachim Blichfeld.
Also receiving points: Edmonton Oilers (17), St. Louis Blues (16), Pittsburgh Penguins (7), Montreal Canadiens (3)
Dropped out: Edmonton Oilers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Los Angeles Kings
Longtime NHL writer and editor. Covered first NHL game in 1975 (and hundreds since). Have done several books, hundreds of magazine/newspaper/online stories. Big fan of hockey history.